The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.
It is truly shocking that 87 professors and staff at one of our country’s finest universities — Princeton University — lent their support and signed their names to a community statement published in The Daily Princetonian that contained so many factual errors. It is equally shocking that Princeton University’s President — and administration — did not distance themselves from such a shoddy statement that purported to represent the Princeton University community.
Let’s start with the article’s opening statement that “condemn[s] the ongoing attacks on the Palestinian people in Gaza by the Israeli armed forces.” The Israeli armed forces did not attack the Palestinian people in Gaza. Rather, based on evidence from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), they responded to more than 4,000 missiles that were launched against Israel’s civilian population by the terrorist Hamas government.
Moreover, based on many news analyses and actual IDF video footage, the Israeli armed forces did all they could to avoid Gazan civilian casualties: The IDF gave advance warnings to Gaza’s residents via phone calls, texts, and dropping low-yield devices on buildings (called “knocks on roofs”). They used extraordinarily targeted bombing and shelling techniques. And they even avoided bombing when children were spotted.
In contrast, thousands of Hamas terrorists in Gaza committed double war crimes — they embedded themselves, their missiles, and their tunnels in populated civilian areas, and they launched more than 4,000 missiles at Israeli civilians, oblivious to the likelihood that innocent Israeli children would be killed. Based on the report of a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas even used journalists as human shields to hide Hamas operations, requiring the Israelis to bomb a journalists’ building to eliminate those operations. Moreover, more than 600 of Hamas’ missiles fell back into Gaza. Based on a report of the Palestinian group Defense for Children, Palestinians — including children — were killed as a result.
In the article’s opening paragraph, Princeton’s (purported) scholars also claim that “most” of Gaza’s “two million inhabitants … descend from refugees expelled and driven from their homes during the Nakba (1947–49) that accompanied the creation of the state of Israel.” However, extensive evidence reflects that a core reason that Palestinian refugees fled was that Arab leadership urged Palestinians to do so, because Arab leadership believed it would be easier for the attacking Arab nations to eliminate the entire Jewish population of Israel without the presence of Arab civilians.
For example, the Arab National Committee in Jerusalem, following the Arab Higher Committee’s March 8, 1948 orders, instructed women, children, and the elderly living in Jerusalem to leave their homes: “Any opposition to this order … is an obstacle to the holy war … and will hamper the operations of the fighters in these districts.”
Furthermore, the Jordanian newspaper Filastin stated: “The Arab States encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.” The Syrian Prime Minister in 1948–49, Haled al Azm, also openly acknowledged the Arabs’ role in persuading the refugees to leave: “Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave.”
Turning to the second paragraph of the article: Princeton’s 87 (purported) scholars “condemn the displacement of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.” Later in the article the academics also decry Israel’s “territorial theft from Palestinians who continue to resist physical removal and existential erasure” and “unending settler-colonial expansionism.” Still later the academics state that they stand behind Palestinians who “have the right to remain in their residences.”
Clearly, none of the academics who lent their signatures to this article — and teach at this great university — bothered to read any of the relevant court opinions — or any of the summaries of those opinions — which identify the following facts:
In 1875, Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews purchased the land in question from its Arab owners. Records show that the property was registered in the Ottoman land registry under the name of Rabbis Avraham Ashkenazi and Meir Auerbach. For almost 75 years — until Israel’s 1948 War of Independence — Jews lived in these homes, peacefully, next to their Arab neighbors.
However, in 1948, when every Arab country surrounding Israel attacked the nation that had been created by vote of the United Nations, the Sheikh Jarrah area, together with the Old City of Jerusalem, were captured by Transjordan, which evicted all Jewish families and transferred the land to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Properties. In 1956, the Custodian leased the land to 28 Palestinian families (meaning none of those families owned the properties).
After Israel gained control of the land 11 years later in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel passed a law allowing Jews whose families were evicted from their lands to reclaim their property, provided they could prove their ownership. In 1982, the Jewish owners of the property sued the Palestinian families who were occupying the property and not paying any rent.
However, in a remarkable ruling the Magistrate Court took into consideration the Palestinians’ lengthy tenancy and determined that the Palestinians enjoyed “Protected Tenant Status,” meaning they could live on the property if they paid rent and maintained the property. All parties executed an agreement, in which the tenants recognized the Jews’ ownership of the property and right to receive rent in exchange for the Jews’ recognition of the tenants’ protected status.
Fast forward another several decades, and what happened? The Arab tenants refused to pay rent and carried out illegal construction on the property. Accordingly, the Jews owning the property filed legal proceedings seeking to uphold the agreement that had been signed and requested eviction.
Certainly not an example of “forced dispossession by the Israeli settler colonial state,” as Princeton’s academics falsely assert, but rather an example of a court system operating at its best, and Israelis spending more than 30 years pursuing the orderly administration of justice through legal processes.
In the remaining paragraphs of the article, Princeton’s academics polemically attack Israel’s “brutal system that controls Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, which they claim is “ideologically founded upon Jewish supremacy” and “rules over the lives of Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel alike.” The academics even accuse Israel of being “Apartheid” — a toxic lie repeatedly asserted by members of the “Squad,” such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).
Tellingly, Princeton’s 87 academics ignore the fact that Israel is a democracy, which allows all Israeli citizens — Arab and Jew alike — to vote in elections, resulting in 14 Arab members currently serving in Israel’s parliament (the Knesset). Moreover, the Israelis have held four elections in the past two years. The most recent — in March 2021 — was about to result in a coalition government formed with Arab parties; however, Hamas’ launching of rockets into Israel aborted that result.
Notably, Princeton’s professed scholars also entirely ignore that there have been no elections — and a lack of democratic freedoms — in both Gaza and the West Bank — for more than 15 years:
Starting with Gaza: Following the 2006 Gazan election that placed a Hamas-Fatah Coalition in power, a civil war erupted between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas expelled Fatah members from Gaza, and Hamas seized total power.
Associated Press reporter Ibrahim Barzak wrote an eyewitness account of the war stating: “Today I have seen people shot before my eyes. I heard the screams of terrified women and children in a burning building, and I argued with gunmen who wanted to take over my home. I have seen a lot in my years as a journalist in Gaza, but this is the worst it’s been.”
Moreover, according to Amnesty International, after Hamas gained control, killings and abductions were rampant, children were caught in the cross-fire, newspapers were shut down, and journalists were harassed. Beginning in 2010, Human Rights Watch observed that the Hamas-controlled government was stepping up its efforts to “islamicize” Gaza, including through severe violations of personal freedom, and repression of civil society groups.
Turning to the West Bank: Since the last election took place approximately 15 years ago, there has been a long list of human rights abuses and suppression of journalists’ freedom, including the murder of journalists. Moreover, Abbas’ fear that his power would be diminished by new elections in 2021 led him to cancel the elections and incite violence at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. As Jonathan Tobin wrote in the New York Post: “[L]et no one be fooled about the biggest reason for the violence: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wants to divert attention from his decision to postpone elections again as he serves the 17th year of a four-year term to which he was elected in 2005. He fears defeat at the hands of Hamas or more militant members of his own Fatah Party.”
Princeton’s academics conclude their article by “affirming [their] own commitments to speaking out in defense of the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people as well as the foundational principles of scholarly integrity and academic freedom.”
But all that these 87 academics have demonstrated is their lack of scholarly integrity, their willingness to disseminate polemical falsehoods, and their ideological dedication to their “cause,” which ignores that Hamas is a terrorist organization that has not only rained down terror and death on the more than nine million Jews and Arabs living in Israel, but has also squandered billions of dollars of aid provided by foreign governments.
Between 1993 (when the Oslo Accord process began) and 2013, the Palestinians received $21.7 billion in development assistance, according to the World Bank. However, as argued by Tzipi Hotovely in the Wall Street Journal: “Tragically, as seen in Hamas-run Gaza, [Arab leadership] prefers to use the funds on its terrorist infrastructure and weaponry, such as cross-border attack tunnels and the thousands of missiles rained down in recent years on Israel.”
The signatures of more than a hundred Princeton undergraduates, graduates, and young alumni raise a serious question whether students at Princeton — with these types of academics as their mentors — stand any chance of developing the ability to analyze facts rigorously to reach accurate conclusions. That Princeton University’s President — and other administration officials — have not distanced themselves from this shoddy and inaccurate article, which also contains antisemitic assertions about “Jewish supremacy,” raises serious concerns about Princeton University’s leadership as well.
As a graduate of Princeton, I am concerned about the future of this great institution. And I ask that others join me in supporting Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself against an onslaught of more than 4,000 missiles, as any nation — including ours — would undoubtedly do. I encourage members of the Princeton community who agree to add their names to the following statement, “Princeton Stands with Israel.”
Linda Cahn ’76 can be reached at LindaCahn@mac.com